In this series I have
a small cameo. The scene is the one in which the newly conscripted Handmaids
are being brainwashed in a sort of Red Guard “Red Centre” re-education
facility. They must learn to renounce their previous identities, to know their place
and their duties, to understand that they have no real rights but will be
protected up to a point if they conform, and to think so poorly of themselves
that they will accept their assigned fate and not rebel or run away.
The Handmaids sit in a
circle, with the taser-equipped Aunts forcing them to join in what is now
called (but was not, in 1984) the “slut-shaming” of one of their number,
Jeanine, who is being made to recount how she was gang-raped when a teenager. Her
fault, she led them on -- that is the chant of the other Handmaids.
Although it was “only
a movie” and these were actresses who would be giggling at coffee break, and I
myself was “just pretending,” I found this scene horribly upsetting. It was way
too much like way too much history. Yes, women will gang up on other women.
Yes, they will accuse others to keep themselves off the hook: we see that very
publicly in the age of social media, which enables group swarmings. Yes, they
will gladly take positions of power over other women, even -- and, possibly,
especially -- in systems in which women as a whole have scant power: all power
is relative, and in tough times any amount is seen as better than none. Some of
the controlling Aunts are true believers, and think they are doing the
Handmaids a favour: at least they haven’t been sent to clean up toxic waste,
and at least they won’t get raped, not as such. Some of the Aunts are sadists.
Some are opportunists. And they are adept at taking some of the stated aims of
1984 feminism -- such as the anti-porn campaign and greater safety from sexual
assault -- and turning them to their own advantage. As I say: real life.
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